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Tuesday, 18 September 2001
Page: 30838

Mr GEORGIOU (2:41 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister update the House on the welfare of Australians caught up in the tragic events in the United States? What action is the Australian government taking to support the families of those missing?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the member for Kooyong for his question. This House has already expressed the deepest sympathy and support for all of the Australians tragically affected by the recent terrorist attacks that took place in New York and Washington.

My department has received some 35,000 calls and has returned calls to the 8,000 people who chose to register their details. On the basis of these painstaking efforts, I can offer the House some comfort—albeit very limited comfort—and that is that, of the 69 Australians who remained unaccounted for yesterday, I can now confirm that 17 of them are safe and sound. As the situation in New York City stabilises, a number of Australians there have been able to re-establish contact with their families back home and allay concerns for their welfare. The Consulate General in New York has also been able to settle a number of cases, obviously very much to the relief of family members back here in Australia.

It is, though, to my deep regret that our work has established that, in addition to the three deaths confirmed earlier, there may be at least 20 Australians for whom the worst must be assumed. These people were most certainly in the World Trade Centre at the time of the attacks, most in the top floors of the building, and have not been heard from since. We are still seeking to resolve 32 cases in which families initially reported very serious concerns. In some of these cases we have been unable to contact original informants. While my officials are conducting thorough investigative work on these cases, I urge all Australians who reported information to us but have not heard back to make themselves available for contact by my officials.

My department is working hard and, if I may say so, with great compassion to support the families of the victims and others affected by the crisis. The government has arranged for identification forms required by the New York Police Department to be return couriered to families of victims. Officers are in touch with family members travelling to the United States in order to meet them when they arrive. The Consul General in New York, Ken Allen, who I think has done a simply outstanding job—and after all he has only been there for a very few weeks—is opening his home to those traumatised by the crisis, and professional counselling is available to help ease the burden of grief for loved ones. We will continue to work around the clock in an effort to identify Australians involved in this simply appalling catastrophe and to provide support to those families who are still awaiting news.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I seek your indulgence.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition may proceed.

Mr Beazley —Can I thank the minister for his situation report and, through him, thank his department for the work that it is doing.